THE ORIGINS OF SIDURI

The novel, Siduri, began as a tale of a girl on a bench waiting for a train. Her boyfriend had vanished, her mother had died, and her father was nowhere to be found.

And that was it. I had no idea what would happen next.

I tinkered with the beginning. I changed it over and over. I added a mysterious woman, running towards the station—only to vanish almost as soon as she’d been seen. After countless revisions, the train finally arrived, and the girl got on. There she encountered a whole slew of characters, most of whom never made the final cut. Once on board, the next bit was straightforward. There was a storm, there was a bridge and there was an almighty crash.

But after that?

After that, I again got stuck. What happens to the girl? Where should the story go? I wanted to write about choice and destiny, but I didn’t know how.

So, I put what I’d written aside and got on with my life.

Then I heard about this bloke called Gilgamesh.

For those unacquainted, Gilgamesh was a Sumerian king of Uruk in Mesopotamia around 4500 years ago. Scholars often dub the “Epic of Gilgamesh” to be the “first great composition”. A work that left its mark on literature, even inspiring the likes of Homer. I’m not a classical scholar but even I could see the Epic of Gilgamesh asked the same fundamental questions that we’ve been asking ever since. Questions like “Can you outwit death?” and “Should you even try?”

Gilgamesh thought so, but Gilgamesh was also a bit of a dick. Frankly, in classical literature, there are a lot of characters that turn out to be dicks. Still, in Gilgamesh’s story, there’s one character that modern sensibilities deem worthy of praise—Siduri. Although her role in the epic was minor, Siduri is the one who first introduced our procrastinating world to the words “Seize the day!”.

Except that she didn’t.

Siduri’s actual advice was far less Roman, far more Sumerian, and had far more of a fatalistic sting to it. What Siduri actually said was something like: “Why spend your life striving for the unattainable? Embrace your destiny, make merry, and enjoy the pleasures of life.”

I’m all for pleasure, but my hackles rise when someone calls something “unattainable”. There have been many impossible things that turned out to be quite possible—much to the annoyance of those who deal in absolutes. Certainly, if you use the word “improbable” rather than “impossible,” then you’re at least left with a glimmer of hope. Given the way the world is today, hope is often the only thing left.

The Epic of Gilgamesh is the spark that gave life to the novel, Siduri.

My Siduri, though, is not the tale about a veil-covered alewife of ancient lore. My Siduri is about a girl whose story begins in an empty railway station. I’ve made no attempt to modernise a text first penned four thousand years ago.

Well… mostly not.

JJ

THE LANDSCAPE OF SIDURI

According to the blurb, Siduri is set in a land where ‘the line between the living and the dead is blurred’. 

Which is nice.

But where is this land? Most readers won’t care, but there are a few souls out there who’ll recognize what I’ve done … and be a tad miffed.

I’m talking about the Cornish.

Eh … Sorry about that.

You see, while I’m a born and bred Scot, my ancestors came from Cornwall. I’ve spent a lot of time in that land of gorse and heather and scarily narrow roads. I feel at home there as much as I did in Scotland or, for that matter, the New Forest where I live now.

I set Siduri in an imaginary (and very much geographically mangled) Cornwall, or Kernow as those who fly the black and white flag would call it. Marhasyow and Izdubar’s Castle are based on Marazion (its Cornish name was ‘Marghas Yow’) and St Michaels Mount. Marazion even has a river ‘Koner’ (Red River), just not the more famous one.

Aberfal is modern-day Falmouth, but I’m pretty certain you can’t catch a train to Marazion from there.

Beyond Aberfal?

Beyond Aberfal, there be dragons. Lots of them. And all dressed in black.

Beyond Aberfal is no longer Kernow … so I feel less need to apologize.

Unless, of course, you’re from Guitt.

JJ